©Kali Tal. All rights reserved.
An early version of this manuscript appeared as Bearing Witness: The Literature of Trauma, an American Studies dissertation, Yale University, 1991. A substantially revised version was published as Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (Cambridge University Press, 1996). This is a third revision; in addition to a number of corrections and supplements to the text, it contains a new chapter on ethnocentric bias in the now popular field of trauma studies. Only this new chapter can be reproduced for classroom use. For print copies of all other chapters, please go through your normal copyright release program, or purchase the original edition from the Cambridge University Press edition. Feel free to email me with questions or comments.
- Chapter One: Worlds of Hurt
- Chapter Two: A Form of Witness: The Holocaust and North American Memory
- Chapter Three: Remembering Difference; Working Against Eurocentric Bias in Contemporary Scholarship on Trauma and Memory
- Chapter Four: Between the Lines: Reading the Vietnam War
- Chapter Five: The Farmer of Dreams: The Writings of W.D. Ehrhart
- Chapter Six: There Was No Plot And I Discovered It By Mistake: Trauma, Community and the Revisionary Process
- Chapter Seven: We Didn’t Know What Would Happen: Opening the Discourse on Sexual Abuse
- Chapter Eight: This Is About Power On Every Level: Three Incest Survivor Narratives
- This Is Not A Conclusion
Can we literally feel that everyone must remember the Holocaust? That there is something of import achieved in recounting the whole story to, say, primitive tribesmen in New Guinea?1 —Jerry Samet
In September, 1990, I took a walk down to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (“the Wall”) in Washington, DC. To enter the Memorial proper, visitors much pass by the literature tables set up on the paths leading to the Memorial and on the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where Viet Nam veteran entrepreneurs and true believers pass out POW/MIA propaganda, hawk commercial products, and campaign against flag burning, peace, and Jane Fonda.2 On this particular afternoon I paused before a booth that sold t-shirts. In addition to the usual “POWs Never Have a Nice Day”; logo, I spotted a stack of new “Desert Shield”; shirts that featured the legend “Desert Shield: Persian Gulf Pest Control”; and a graphic depicting Saddam Hussein as a dangling spider with a man’s head. When I asked about them, the fortysomething guy in combat fatigues behind the counter commented that the shirts were “hot,”; and that he was going to order “a lot more”; from the “artist.”;3
I bought the t-shirt, and the next day brought it along when I went to work.4 My colleagues at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum certainly found the shirt distasteful, and many commented on the striking resemblance borne by the caricature of Hussein’s face to the “Jews”; in Nazi antisemitic propaganda. A few noted that the phrase “Pest Control”; resonated unpleasantly with Hitler’s rhetoric in Mein Kampf, where the metaphor of vermin and insect infestation was invoked with great regularity and Hitler expressed his desire to exterminate (vernichten) the pest. Yet my suggestion that the Museum should issue an official statement condemning racist anti-Arab propaganda was met with no more enthusiasm than an earlier suggestion that the Museum had an obligation to publicly comment upon President Bush’s characterization of Hussein as “another Hitler.”; The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a congressionally mandated public institution supported by privately donated funds, refused to enter into any discussion of the Persian Gulf War, tacitly supporting U.S. policy and refusing to exercise its claim to authority over the meaning of the Holocaust in contemporary U.S. culture.
As cultural critics Jochen and Linda Schulte-Sasse note, “While Western political discourse has persistently likened Hussein to Hitler, its iconography likens him in significant ways to Hitler’s Other, the ‘Jew’.”;5 Images of the U.S. are equally confused. Bush portrayed himself as a glorious American Führer leading the country to deserved prominence in a “New World Order”; (all that was “good”; about Nazi Germany),6 and at the same time the U.S. population was painted as the victimized “Jew,”; suffering at the hands of evil dictators and terrorists. Hussein is Hitler, we are Hitler, Hussein is the Jew, we are the Jew, and behind it all lies the metonym of “Holocaust.”;
“Hitler,”; “Jew,”; “Nazi”; and “Holocaust”; imply floating chains of signifiers in the Barthesian sense, each invoking a variety of signifieds. Every individual interpretive choice is the product of a dialogic heteroglossia—”Everything means, is understood, as a part of a greater whole—there is a constant interaction between meanings, all of which have the potential of conditioning others.”;7 The resulting symmetry of competing interpretations resembles Rabelais’ “grotesque body,”; a carnival environment “loud with many voices,”; promising “the closure which all monologism promises, its own monologism ultimately subverted by the heteroglossia of the collection as a carnival whole.”;8 Each participant in the dialogue attempts to counter the terror of the traumatic image by “fixing”; the signified, restricting its meaning and, thus, its implications.
The meaning of the “Holocaust”; is not fixed in contemporary U.S. culture. Representations of the Third Reich in elite and popular media, the manner in which the Holocaust is taught in schools, the construction of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, histories produced by scholars, the interpretations advanced by theologians, the claims of politicians—all are sites of ideological struggle. In this chapter, I demonstrate that the critics who take the literature of the Holocaust as their subject are likewise engaged in the attempt to fix the meaning of the Holocaust. Each critic has a social and political agenda. The efforts of critics to promote particular definitions and interpretations of “Holocaust literature”; are inextricably tied to the contest over the meaning of the Holocaust. Like the rhetoric of public debate, scholarly arguments are often emotional and usually charged, a “politics of the passions.”;9
Debate about the Holocaust in the public arena is most visible when extremist groups such as the “Institute for Historical Review”; assert that Jews have fabricated evidence of the Nazi’s genocidal campaign in order to perpetrate the “Holocaust hoax”; on the peoples of the world,10 provoking impassioned responses from historians and survivors who point to the massive body of documentary proof and testimonial literature dealing with Nazi atrocity. Though not a single reputable historian supports the claims of the Institute for Historical Review, Holocaust-deniers have successfully kept themselves in the public eye by provoking a First Amendment argument of mammoth proportions over their tactic of publicizing their views by taking out ads in college and university newspapers.11
The struggle over the meaning of the Holocaust is complicated by the fact that the antagonists are simultaneously engaged in battle at several overlapping ideological sites. Though conservative Holocaust scholars like Lucy Dawidowicz express their “shock”; at the discovery of the political agenda underlying curricula designed by progressive Holocaust scholars12, their pose of offended innocence is both opportunistic and insincere. In an article that is, ostensibly, about teaching the Holocaust, Lucy Dawidowicz’s words resonate with Alan Bloom’s and Dinesh D’Sousa’s when she claims that the subject of history
is being squeezed out to make room for subject matter demanded by special-interest groups. Blacks have called for teaching about the role of blacks in American history and culture, and Hispanics, Native Americans, and women have followed suit, giving rise to what has irreverently been labeled “oppression studies.”; The original psychological rationale for these studies—that they would foster pupils’ self-esteem—has now been superseded by an ideological rationale which preaches the equality of all cultures and attacks the “hegemony”; of Western civilization and its “Eurocentric”; character. In either case, the time and space that could be devoted to studying the murder of the European Jews shrink even more. And lobbying efforts by Holocaust survivors, which intentionally or not often reinforce the impression that the Holocaust is nothing more than the Jewish branch of oppression studies, cannot always compete with other more fashionable or better organized “causes.”;13
Dawidowicz believed that the study of “the murder of the European Jews”; does not fall into the category of “oppression studies,”; although the misguided efforts of some survivors mistakenly reinforce that misconception. Rather, she asserted that “the primary lesson of the Holocaust “; is that we ought to return to “the fundamental moral code of our civilization and of the three great religions whose basic text is the Jewish Bible.”; Her underlying critique is that the separation of church and state prevents “teaching moral standards as they are incorporated in the Ten Commandments (or even in just one commandment) … something is clearly wrong with both our system of education and our standards of morality.”;14
Dawidowicz has taken her stand against multiculturalism and “political correctness,”; the conservative demon. Her critique of Holocaust scholarship relates not only to the subject of the Holocaust as history, but to contested ground in a contemporary political debate between right and left. She claims that study of the Holocaust reveals certain universal truths that transcend the limits of individual “self-esteem”; and base ideology—universal truths rooted in religious dogma. She reserves her strongest criticisms for the group “Facing History and Ourselves,”; a Boston-based Holocaust education project dedicated, in their own words, to “promote awareness of the history of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Armenian people, an appreciation for justice, a concern for interpersonal understanding, and a memory for the victims of those events.”;15 Dawidowicz claims that Facing History is “a vehicle for instructing thirteen-year-olds in civil disobedience and indoctrinating them with propaganda for nuclear disarmament.”;16
Facing History explicitly delineates the goal of its curriculum:
This curriculum must provide opportunities for students to explore the practical applications of freedom, which they have learned demand a constant struggle with difficult, controversial, and complex issues. The responsibility that citizens have for one another as neighbors and as nations cannot be left to others. This history has taught that there is no one else to confront terrorism, ease the yoke and pain of racism, attack apathy, create and enforce just laws, and wage peace but us. Information and experience in the political system can challenge the fear, the propaganda, the training in obedience and the lack of information that discourage active decision making about today and the future.17
Unabashedly ideological, Facing History claims that the study of the Holocaust supports their conclusions—that, in fact, proper understanding of the Holocaust impels one into progressive political activism. Both Facing History and Lucy Dawidowicz believe that study of the Holocaust provides access to universal truths, but they each argue for a different interpretation, a different truth. For Dawidowicz, the Holocaust stands as a vindication of traditional (Jewish) religious culture and conservative politics, and places the Jew at the center of the greatest tragedy in the history of the world. For Facing History, the Holocaust is an emblem of conservative politics run amok, the result of illiberal attitudes towards difference and the refusal of individuals to take responsibility for their actions. Rather than emphasizing the particularity of the Jewish victim, Facing History urges its audience to make a direct comparison between antisemitism in the Third Reich and racism in the United States, between Hitler’s massive military build-up and our own nuclear arms race, between the apathy of German citizens and the apathy of U.S. citizens in the face of injustice.
But the struggle over the meaning of the Holocaust is not limited to a tug of war between the right and the left. In the contemporary political arena, it is complicated by the reactions of various groups to current events in the state of Israel, and by tensions between African-Americans and Jews in the United States — a product of the “post-consensus politics”; described by cultural critic Kobena Mercer, in which a multiplicity of social and political agents have “pluralized the domain of political antagonism.”;18 Mercer writes, “No one has a monopoly or exclusive authorship over the signs they share in common: rather, elements from the same system of signs are constantly subject to antagonistic modes of appropriation and articulation.”;19 Thus, in the Persian Gulf War, members of the left argued among themselves over whether it was reasonable to equate Hussein (and, by inference, the Palestinians who supported Hussein) with Hitler.
A few Jewish members of the progressive political community have cautioned non-Jews that their application of the Holocaust metaphor to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict reflects a (perhaps unconscious) antisemitism. Orthodox rabbi David Landes ties leftist antisemitism to damaging representations of the Holocaust: “The Left’s difficulty with the Jews is linked to its approach to the Holocaust.”;20 According to Landes, leftists “misappropriate”; the Holocaust in three ways: erasing the specifically antisemitic character of the Holocaust; universalizing the Holocaust; and equating “Jewish Israelis with the Nazis, and Arab Palestinians with the persecuted Jews.”;21 He also claims that Jews who adopt the leftist perceptions of the Holocaust are “self-hating.”; Though Landes admits that it is possible that “one can be critical of Israel without being a self-hating Jew,”;22 and further acknowledges that the label of “self-hating Jew”; has been used to suppress dissent in the Jewish community, he goes on to claim that the term is not entirely meaningless. And those whom Landes specifically and emphatically identifies as self-hating are the Jews who
… identify as Jews, but … simultaneously deny as an essential part of that definition: either peoplehood, religious culture, or the Jews’ historical relationship to the land of Israel. The Israel/Nazi analogy relives the self-hating Jews of this tension: they can be good prophetic Jews by opposing exclusivist Jews, fanatical Judaism, and the “Fascist”; Jewish state. The attack on the Jewish state thus gives them an explanation for why they are not involved in Jewish concerns and simultaneously allows them to claim that they are still connected to their Jewishness.23
Landes’ insistence on a “correct”; representation of the Holocaust is tied to his social and political agenda—he wishes to build a progressive Jewish community that adheres to religious traditions and supports the continued existence of the state of Israel.
Jewish leftist Noam Chomsky has a different set of political and social goals than does Landes, and thus a completely different perspective on representations of the Holocaust. While Landes believes that the application of Holocaust metaphors to the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a great mistake, Chomsky identifies many self-proclaimed Zionists with the fascist regime of the Nazis, and equates persecuted Palestinians with persecuted Jews. Chomsky asserts that the American Jewish community is “deeply totalitarian,”; and that American Jews use accusations of antisemitism and the specter of the Holocaust to silence critics of Israel as a part of a carefully engineer political strategy.24
There is just no way to respond. If you are denounced as being an anti-Semite, what are you going to say, I’m not an anti-Semite? Or if you are denounced as being in favor of the Holocaust, what are you going to say, I’m not in favor of the Holocaust? I mean you cannot win…. Why not say I am in favor of the Holocaust. I think all Jews should be killed. That is the next thing to say. The point is that they can say anything they want.25
Chomsky strongly criticizes Elie Wiesel, whom he accuses of taking the position that “one must maintain silence in the face of atrocities carried out by one’s favorite state.”;26 He notes that Wiesel is far more popular in the U.S. than in Israel, and observes that it is “an interesting facto about American culture… that a man who puts forth this position can be regarded as a moral hero.”;27 No one, least of all Chomsky, would argue with the assertion that his “agnostic”; position on the Holocaust reflects his own political ideology. Chomsky is adamant in his insistence that the U.S. is an aggressive imperialist power bent on maintaining world dominance at all costs, a “violent terror state,”; supporting equally violent client states, including the state of Israel:
The modalities of state terrorism that the United States has devised for its clients have commonly included at least a gesture towards “winning hearts and minds,”; though experts warn against undue sentimentality…. Nazi Germany shared these concerns, as Albert Speer discusses in his autobiography….28
There were moderate and liberal American Jews who thought that the label of “Nazi”; was best applied to Hussein’s supporters. Though many progressive Jews were disturbed by a February 1990 press conference in Tel Aviv at which four prominent Israeli peace activists declared their support for the war against Iraq, others approved of their call for the elimination of Hussein’s “genocidal”; regime.29 Novelist and well-known Israeli peacenik Amos Oz’s assertion that a preference for sanctions over war amounted to “appeasement”; struck a chord with moderate Jews like representative Stephen Solarz (D) of Brooklyn, who wrote that although Bush’s equation of Hussein and Hitler was “wildly overdrawn,”; the comparison was not entirely illegitimate: “But if there are fundamental differences between Saddam and Hitler, there are also instructive similarities. Like Hitler, Saddam has an unappeasable will to power combined with a ruthless willingness to employ whatever means are necessary to achieve it.”;30 Solarz and his Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf had strong support from the liberal Jewish community, which closed ranks once the war began; some no doubt moved to join the prowar agitators by their perception of the antiwar movement as actively anti-Israel and covertly antisemitic. Jewish progressive John Judis claimed, “Peace activists did not merely criticize Israel’s government or policies; they blamed the Jewish state (as a previous generation had blamed Jewish bankers) for the ills of the world, including millennial conflicts between Arab peoples.”;31
Further complicating the question of representation of the Holocaust is the current tension between the African-American and Jewish-American communities. As Cornel West notes, the period in U.S. history during which Blacks and Jews were most strongly allied
depended on both sides identifying with a form of universalism that did not highlight questions of identity. There is no going back to such a period. If there is going to be a renewed connection between these two communities, or even a sensible dialogue, it depends on our ability to remain sensitive to the positive quests for identity among Jewish-Americans and African-Americans.32
West points out that the division is not always clear—conservative Jews oppose both blacks and liberal Jews on such issues as affirmative action and social welfare programs—but that it is most evident in the African-American critique of U.S. foreign policy:
This critique coincided with the emergence of conservative forces in Israel after the 1967 and 1973 wars—first as a conservatizing influence in the Labor party, then as the triumph of Menachem Begin’s right-wing coalition—and the increasing identification of Israel with an American foreign policy that was dominated by cold war preoccupations and a refusal to see anything good in Third World liberation struggle. This connection to American foreign policy made it easier for many Blacks to identify Israel as a tool of American imperial interests.33
As early as 1967, black intellectual Harold Cruse observed that American Jewish Zionists seemed to support a position of “anti-Jewish-integration-assimilation,”; while at the same time taking a “pro-Negro integration position and an anti-black nationalist position.”;34 Black nationalists identify with the Palestinians in Israel, and see the Jewish Israelis as colonial oppressors. I have not come across black literature that equates Israelis with Nazis and Palestinians with Jews—rather, the Israeli government is repeatedly compared to the South African government, and both are accused of using brutal methods to oppress or enslave an indigenous population.35
Cruse, who was certainly an antisemite, articulates the perspective of a segment of the black community which believes that the Holocaust occurred, and that it was terrible, but that “for all practical purposes (political, economic, and cultural) as far as Negroes are concerned, Jews have not suffered in the United States. They have, in fact, done exceptionally well on every level of endeavor, from a nationalist premise or on an assimilated status.”;36 From this point of view, Jewish references to the Holocaust seem to be both gratuitous and manipulative—a false claim to sympathy and kinship:
At the Village Vanguard, when [LeRoi] Jones and [Archie] Shepp were reminded of the six million Jews exterminated by Hitler, Jones replied to Larry Rivers, “You’re like the others [whites], except for the cover story.”; Shepp added: “I’m sick of you cats talking about the six million Jews. I’m talking about the five to eight million Africans killed in the Congo….”;37
The black community is divided on the meaning of the Holocaust. Cruse, in his major work, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, was, after all, writing to protest what he saw as a black intellectual propensity to be over fond of Jews, to see them as natural allies and as partners in suffering. He was fighting a long-lived tradition in the black church, reaching back into the antebellum period, in which enslaved blacks likened themselves to the Jews under Pharaoh, and freedom was equated with the Promised Land—Harriet Tubman wasn’t called “Moses”; by accident. Among his contemporaries, Cruse criticized Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin for their alleged reliance on Jewish support, and he argued that the post-World War II American Jew bore no resemblance to the idealized Jews of black mythology.
Today, the spectrum of debate within the black community encompasses progressives such as Cornel West and bell hooks, and radical antisemites such as Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, a Black Muslim and a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation movement, promotes the notion of a Zionist conspiracy. His views on the Holocaust come uncomfortably close to those of the Holocaust deniers. West and hooks, on the other hand, acknowledge the importance of the Holocaust both to Jewish people, and to outside observers. Though West argues against what he calls a “rootless”; universalism, he does assume that there is a basis for black-Jewish alliance—presumably on the grounds that both groups share an understanding of persecution and oppression. hooks is more explicit, explaining that comparison of black and Jewish “holocausts”; leads to important new insights for members of both groups.38 There is no segment of the U.S. black community that supports the claims of conservatives like Dawidowicz or liberals like Landes to the “uniqueness”; of the Holocaust, or to its overwhelming importance in world history. Black history—from the Middle Passage to the tribal wars of the African continent—seems to provide most African Americans with evidence of sufficient genocidal precedent and antecedent.39
The parallels between debate over the Holocaust and over the issues of multiculturalism and “political correctness”; are not coincidental, nor is the fact that some of the most passionate arguments take place in the realm of literary theory. “Traditional”; literary theorists face off against the new literary critics, who espouse a variety of interpretive strategies, including (but not limited to) poststructuralism, reader-response criticism, semiotics, cultural studies, and deconstruction. The last term, “deconstruction,”; has been adopted by conservatives as a catch phrase for a whole range of nontraditional criticism as well as the leftist political agenda this criticism is assumed to endorse. As Nina King observes in her analysis of the curricular wars at Duke University:
[T]he deconstructionists regard language as a tricky, slippery medium that cannot be pinned down to a single fixed meaning. The critic’s task is to demonstrate that trickiness and slipperiness in a given work, to show how meaning changes shape when the medium is carefully examined. “Meaning”; and, by extension, concepts such as “truth”; and “art”; are viewed as relative—historically and culturally determined rather than fixed for all time.40
The notion that there is no single, “correct”; interpretation of a text is deeply troubling to representatives of the political right. George Will complains that the “supplanting of aesthetic by political responses to literature makes literature primarily interesting as a mere index of who had power and whom the powerful victimized.”;41 Though most new critics would hardly call literature a “mere”; reflection of power relations, they would certainly acknowledge that the power hierarchies are inscribed in (and describe) texts.
The claim of the new critics—that no objective standard of judgment exists—confounds conservatives, who find themselves desperately trying to conserve that which may never have been there in the first place. Tension between theory and doctrine is unavoidable, since doctrine rests upon a moral and ideological foundation that cannot bear too much questioning and it is the business of theory to question. When Terrence Des Pres detailed the three principles that comprise the set of “fictions”; that “set limits to respectable study”; of the Holocaust, he was both engaging in a critical act and a political protest, wrestling, in the words of Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, for possession of the “key cultural terms determining what are the right and wrong ways to be a human being.”;42 Des Pres claimed that Holocaust doctrine demands that one concede the following:
1) The Holocaust shall be represented, in its totality, as a unique event or special case or kingdom of its own, above or below or apart from history. 2) Representations of the Holocaust shall be as accurate, as exacting, as unfailingly faithful as possible to the facts and circumstances of the event itself, without change or manipulation for any reason—artistic or literary reasons included. 3) The Holocaust shall be approached as a solemn, or even a sacred event, admitting of no response that obscures its enormity or dishonors its dead.43
Des Pres was a literary theorist, and he engaged the question of representation of the Holocaust from a critical stance. A Catholic, and an American, Des Pres could not stake his claim to knowledge of the Holocaust on personal experience. His struggle with Bruno Bettelheim, psychoanalyst, survivor, and Jew, over the right to define and interpret the Holocaust is worth examining in some detail, and I would like to pay particular attention to the following two essays: Bruno Bettelheim’s “Surviving,”; which originally appeared in the New Yorker in 1976, and Terrence Des Pres’ “The Bettelheim Problem,”; which was published in Social Research in 1979. “Surviving”; was Bettelheim’s response to the nearly simultaneous release of Lina WertmŸller’s film Seven Beauties and Des Pres’ widely excerpted and reviewed study of life in the concentration camps, The Survivor. Though Bettelheim does not mention it in the essay, The Survivor included a section that was very critical of Bettelheim’s earlier psychoanalytic study of the camps, The Informed Heart, and much of “Surviving”; is directed at discrediting not only Des Pres’ scholarship, but at questioning his moral character. “The Bettelheim Problem”; was Des Pres’ response to “Surviving,”; and amounted to a bold attack on Bettelheim as both an academic and a survivor. Taken in context, these works provide a framework within which to examine the controversy over the definition of the Holocaust and the role of the survivor. The tensions between different literary critical strategies, between mythologization and medicalization, between personal testimony and “objective”; analysis are all evident in the debate between Bettelheim and Des Pres, and are played out, again and again, in the works of critics of the literature of the Holocaust.
In The Survivor, Des Pres asserts that “serious study of the concentration-camp experience has been done almost exclusively from the psychoanalytic point of view.”;44 The two studies he points to are Elie A. Cohen’s Human Behavior in the Concentration Camp (1954) and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Informed Heart (1960).45 Both were written by Jewish survivors of concentration camps who were, before and after the war, engaged in the practice of medicine and psychiatry.46 Des Pres’ complaint is that the psychoanalytic approach is flawed at its heart, “misleading because it is essentially a theory of culture and of man in the civilized state.”;47 Psychoanalysis is based on an assumption that behavior is symbolic, and Des Pres argues that human behavior in extremity is action stripped of symbolism, with only one level of meaning—survival at all costs.
Des Pres does not reject the foundation of psychoanalysis—that “the phenomenon of civilization, no matter how advanced or primitive, is based first of all on processes of sublimation and symbolization”;48—but he claims that the state of extremity to which concentration camp prisoners were subjected reduced each of their actions to a life or death issue; stripped away the layers of symbol that protected them from confronting their “primal needs and crude necessities,”; and forced them into a state in which “at every moment the meaning and purpose of their behavior [was] fully known.”;49 Des Pres rejects Bettelheim’s claim that prisoners’ behavior in the camps followed a model of regression to childlike behaviors and eventual identification with the camp authorities (parent figures) as prisoners individuality and autonomy dissolved. It is Bettelheim’s notion of autonomy that Des Pres most vehemently opposes, for in the circumstances of the camps, pursuit of that autonomy could only result in death:
Heroism, for [Bettelheim], is an isolated act of defiance through which the individual as an individual confronts death…. The act he celebrates is suicide…. What can “autonomy”; at the cost of personal destruction amount to? … Bettelheim’s argument comes down to this: “manhood”; requires dramatic self-confirmation…. Insofar as the struggle for life did not become overtly rebellious, prisoners were “childlike.”50
Furthermore, Des Pres claims that Bettelheim’s analysis of the camps is shaped by his agenda: “to compare the survivor’s experience with the predicament of modern man in ‘mass society’”;51
In Des Pres’ estimation, Bettelheim is interested in recuperating the (Judeo)Christian world view which rests on the principle that “survival in itself, not dedicated to something else is both meaningless and ignoble.52 For des Pres, however, the survivor represents man in a pure state stripped of the “style or fine language,”; “masks and stratagems”; we use to cover ourselves and to conceal from ourselves our own mortality—all those layers we require psychoanalysis to excavate and clarify. Although Des Pres adds that “one does not have to survive the concentration camps in order to arrive at awareness of life’s immanent value,”;53 he believes survivors have a “special grace.”; Our reluctance to listen to the words of survivors springs, in his estimation, from our terror of mortality and our inability to confront evil, “the demonic content of our own worst fears and wishes.”;54 Survivors represent our deepest fears, they have descended into Hell and emerged transformed to remind us that the content of our nightmares can burst into the world and consume us. “The essence of survival is passage through death; this way of speaking may be metaphorical for us, but not for survivors…. And here especially we must not be misled by our reliance on metaphor: the survivor is not a metaphor, not an emblem, but an example.”;55
Des Pres’ claims apparently disturbed Bruno Bettelheim deeply. The psychoanalyst was moved to publicly discuss the representation and interpretation of the Holocaust in both popular and high culture—film and criticism—and to declare himself a qualified critic on the basis of his status as a survivor. Though Bettelheim notes in the short preface to “Surviving”; that he was motivated to write his essay only by the “near universal acclaim”;56 with which Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties was received in this country, and does not acknowledge his desire to respond to Des Pres, “Surviving”; is obviously intended to answer (and perhaps to silence) the younger scholar.
Bettelheim begins by posing a question to the reader: Which of these two claims does Wertmüller support? “Survive! No matter how. Survival alone counts!”; or, “There is no meaning to survival?”;57 The notion that she could be advancing both theses simultaneously—that the film might even take as its subject this contradiction—angers and disgusts Bettelheim: “If the latter is true, the film would make its urging and its warning a mocking of us—the observers who are pulled first one way, then in the opposite direction, as the ludicrous turns into horror, and the dreadful becomes farce.”;58 He is intensely aware that Wertmüller’s art has political ramifications, screened in a world where “we all live under the specter of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, atomic bombs and genocide, the concentration camp in its German and its Russian varieties.”;59 Bettelheim is deeply disturbed that the current generation’s fascination with the Viet Nam war seems to coincide with their indifference to the traumatic events of their parents’ generation, and his example of this indifference is Wertmüller’s reduction of “the unspeakable horror of yesteryear”;60 into a farce.
Bettelheim perceives of himself as a guardian of the truth, and advances his essay as a corrective measure to the dangerous misinterpretations of the Holocaust offered by wrong-headed outsiders: “Why spoil the enjoyment of those for whom the gas chambers are a hoary tale, vaguely remembered, best forgotten? Out of such considerations, I would have kept silent but for my conviction that this film and, more important, most of the public reaction to it, interpret survivorship falsely, in terms both of the past and of the present.”;61 To Bettelheim, Seven Beauties stands as a justification of the acceptance of Fascism, both in past and present moments. To support his argument he psychoanalyzes Wertmüller, asserting that she consciously wishes to affirm “the goodness of man,”; while she is subconsciously fascinated by Fascism and machismo.62 The result of this unconscious undermining of her own intended project is a film in which “only evil triumphs.”;63 Once he has constructed this argument, he then applies it to the manner in which the “American cultural élite”; read Wertmüller’s film, Albert Speer’s memoirs, and “sympathetic biographies of Hitler,”; insisting that, “Nothing could be more dangerous than if disappointment with the obvious shortcomings of the free world and life in it should lead to an unconscious fascination with the world of totalitarianism—a fascinating that could easily change into a conscious acceptance.”;64
Bettelheim claims that in order to be moral, all texts must present the clear message that one must “take a firm stand against evil, even if it meant risking one’s life.”;65 Films like Wertmüller’s, which justify “evil by implanting a smug conviction that nothing could have made a difference and, by implication, that nothing would make any difference today,”; blur a line that Bettelheim would like kept clear: “evil is evil.”;66 In the morality play suggested by Bettelheim, at least one “good”; character must triumph, or, at worst, no “evil”; character should survive beyond the last, triumphant act of autonomy that results in the death of the “good”; character. Unlike Seven Beauties, Bettelheim’s fictions would allow the audience to “truly embrace goodness as to fully reject evil.”;67 Confusion is dangerous, ambiguity leads us to Fascism, absurdity threatens the foundations of our culture. In his estimation, merely viewing Seven Beauties degrades us as human beings.
Ten pages into “Surviving,”; after concluding his rousing indictment of Wertmüller, Bettelheim introduces the subject of Terrence Des Pres and his work. After commenting on the wide publication and the critical acclaim that Des Pres, like Wertmüller, has enjoyed, he comments that both artist and critic arrive at like conclusions: “the main lesson of survivorship is: all that matters, the only thing that is really important, is life in its crudest, merely biological form.”;68 By beginning his discussion of Des Pres at the conclusion of his condemnation of Wertmüller, and then equating the two, Bettelheim clearly and immediately defines Des Pres as morally incorrect. Furthermore, both Wertmüller and Des Pres are accused of twisting the truth—”a much greater distortion than an outright lie”;—weaving “misleading myths around the truism that one must remain alive.”;69 Bettelheim interprets Des Pres’ claim that survivors learn the value of life by passing through death as a call to struggle for survival by any and all means, “even those which until now have been unacceptable.”;70 He then argues that while Des Pres as theorist articulates the lessons to “‘live beyond the compulsions of culture’ and ‘the body’s crude claims,’”; Wertmüller as artist “gives these principles visible form and symbolic expression.”;71 Together, they function to prepare the way for the triumph of Fascism.
Bettelheim matches his own description of survival in the camps—survival through cooperation and moral behavior—against Des Pres’ description of an environment where moral behavior often reduced one’s chance of survival. Refusing to acknowledge the complexity of the world of the concentration camps, where the choice between “good”; and “evil”; was often blurry and indistinct, Bettelheim concludes that the “principles that Wertmüller and Des Pres present to us as guidelines for survival were in fact those by which the Nazis, and particularly the SS, lived, or at least tried to live.”;72 In Bettelheim’s estimation, both theorist and artist are Fascists, as are the audiences who praise their work, and it is his moral obligation to raise his voice in an “autonomous”; act of protest, mirroring the heroic autonomy of the survivors he praises.
When a large and significant segment of those who speak for the American intellectual establishment seems ready to accept the most basic principles of Nazi doctrine and to believe the suggestion—presented in carefully camouflaged convincing forms in Seven Beauties and Des Pres’ critically celebrated book—that survivorship supports the validity of those principles, then a survivor must speak up to say that this is an outrageous distortion.73
Bettelheim points out that, ultimately, survival in the camps had almost nothing to do with the behavior of prisoners, and everything to do with the timing of release or liberation. He divides the process of survival into two categories: day-to-day survival within the camp (in which a prisoner may in some small way be able to delay an inevitable execution), and rescue by an outside force. Bettelheim cautions, “Any discussion of survivorship is dangerously misleading if it gives the impression that the main question is what the prisoner can do, for this is insignificant compared to the need to defeat, politically or militarily, those who maintain the camps—something that the prisoners, of course, cannot do.”;74 The impression, given by both the film and Des Pres’ essays, is “that prisoners managed to survive on their own,”;75 thus avoiding the need to address larger questions. One of those larger questions, at least in Bettelheim’s estimation, is the oppression of Soviet dissenters in the Gulags, to which Bettelheim refers several times throughout the essay. Bettelheim reminds us that we would not be able to hear the survivor testimony of dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn if he had not first been freed by his captors, implying that our first duty is to liberate those who are still imprisoned.
The political landscape painted by Bettelheim and Des Pres stand in stark contrast. Bettelheim depicts a world of clashing superpowers—first the Axis (Fascism) against the Allied Forces (Democracy), and later the Soviet Union (Communism/Fascism) against the U.S. (Democracy)—in which the agents of freedom battle the agents of oppression. He is profoundly disturbed by the fact that Des Pres colors us all morally culpable, as nations and individuals, with no clear distinction between good and evil, right and wrong—the Allied forces liberated the concentration camps and then incinerated Japanese civilians with atomic bombs; later, the Soviet Union maintained a concentration camp system, while the United States waged a genocidal war on the people of Viet Nam. Just as Bettelheim condemns Wertmüller for her insistence that good does not triumph over evil, that the whole world is a bordello, he condemns Des Pres for his failure to judge the behavior of survivors by an established moral code.
In his attack on Des Pres’ assertion of moral ambiguity, Bettelheim uses language that is both emotional and highly charged. Des Pres’ arguments are accused of being “scandalous,”; “incredibly callous,”; “utterly false,”; “spurious,”; and “untrue.”;76 This is doubtless a response to the section The Survivor in which Des Pres attempted to undermine Bettelheim’s privileged status as a survivor by publicly stating that Bettelheim had been in Buchenwald and Dachau only for a year, “at a time when prisoners could still hope for release, and before systematic destruction became fixed policy,”; and asserted that Bettelheim had traded both on the fact that “he was there and speaks with that authority,”; and on the early appearance of his first analysis of the camps (“Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations,”; 1943) to establish his position as the authority on the subject.77
Des Pres challenged Bettelheim by declaring that Bettelheim’s version of events “differs sharply from that of other survivors,”;78 and, in effect, called him either a liar or a fool for his “grave misrepresentation of basic facts”; in Eugene Kogon’s memoir, The Theory and Practice of Hell.79 Des Pres accuses Bettelheim of being so obsessed with autonomy, “his concept of transcendental selfhood,”; that he is blinded “to collective action and mutual aid”; among prisoners.80 He claims that Bettelheim is rooted in “the old heroic ethic”;—made obsolete by the machinery of mass destruction—and that by failing to embrace the necessary ambiguity of simultaneous resistance and acquiescence Bettelheim endorses a plan of action that is doomed to failure, and which will result in the ultimate destruction of all victims (including, presumably, the present generation, in the inferno of nuclear holocaust).
Bettelheim’s response is to approach Des Pres from his unguarded flank. He reminds the reader that survivors lived by virtue of the fact that they were released by others, and follows by quoting some of Des Pres’ most flowery and overblown prose descriptions of survivors:
It will be startling news to most survivors that they are “strong enough, mature enough, awake enough… to embrace life without reserve,”; … What about the many millions who perished? Were they “awake enough… to embrace life without reserve”; as they were driven to the gas chambers?81
Using his authority as a medical professional, Bettelheim reminds us of the many survivors who were psychically scarred by their experiences in the camps, who have been unable to overcome depression, nightmares, or full-blown psychoses. From this angle, also, he accuses Des Pres of outrageous foolishness for objecting “to the idea of guilt, the pangs of which are a most powerful motivation for moral behavior…. Des Pres writes that the average survivor should not and does not feel guilty, since guilt is one of the most significant ‘compulsions of culture,’ from which Des Pres claims that the survivor has freed himself.”;82
At this point in Bettelheim’s critique, his deepest conflict with Des Pres emerges.
In The Survivor, Des Pres constructs the survivor as example: one who has passed through the Hell that for others exists only as metaphor. In the camps (Hell), survivors adopted a communal identity which, even after they were liberated, they never abandoned: “Survivors are not individuals in the bourgeois sense. They are living remnants of the general struggle, and certainly they know it.”;83 Since the survivor is merely “remnant”; rather than whole, the bulk of his or her identity is with the dead; in fact, the survivor has become a sort of speaker for the dead. As such, the survivor becomes “a disturber of the peace… a runner of the blockade men erect against knowledge of ‘unspeakable’ things.”;84 Removed from the realm of “normal”; humanity, Des Pres’ survivor is a kind of mythic construct, a creature whose “special task”; is to awaken our conscience. Guilt, which is a human emotion, thus has nothing to do with the survivors Des Pres imagines: “Survivors do not bear witness to guilt, neither theirs nor ours, but to objective conditions of evil.”;85 Since psychoanalysis takes as its project the reintegration of the subject into society (a process that often requires “adjustment, acceptance, forgetting”;86) its goals are antithetical to those of Des Pres, who wishes to preserve the survivor as outsider, frozen forever in the role of Hell’s witness, a kind of Cassandra doomed to forever prophesy the past.
Bettelheim is dedicated to humanizing the survivor, to placing his or her psychological responses to trauma in the context of normal human response. He is also intent on clearly delineating good and evil, relying upon and reaffirming a traditional moral code for which the Holocaust stands as the most violent and terrifying breach. Both Des Pres and Bettelheim agree that the survivor who bears witness serves as an embarrassment to those whose lives have been untouched by atrocity. But for Des Pres, conscience is a “social achievement,”; resulting from the “collective effort to come to terms with evil, to distill a moral knowledge equal to the problems at hand. Only after the ethical content of an experience has been made available to all members of the community does conscience become the individual ‘voice’ we usually take it for.”;87 In Des Pres’ model, the survivor is destroyed as an individual, but can serve as a voice that redeems the collective through testimony, changing the moral order. For Bettelheim, conscience is always individual and “autonomous,”; and the survivor bears witness to the truth and value of a moral order in which life is not meaningless. Bettelheim concludes “Surviving”; by claiming that concentration camps taught survivors (“us”;) that:
… miserable though the world in which we live may be, the difference between it and the world of the concentration camps is as great as that between night and day, hell and salvation, death and life. It taught us there is meaning to life. Difficult though that meaning may be to fathom—a much deeper meaning than we had thought possible before we became survivors. And our feeling of guilt for having been so lucky as to survive the hell of the concentration camp is a most significant part of this meaning—testimony to a humanity that not even the abomination of the concentration camp can destroy.88
This final assertion rests solidly on Bettelheim’s authority as a survivor, rather than as a well-established and respected psychoanalyst. By choosing to end in this manner, Bettelheim poses himself as an insider (one who knows) defending truth, and locates Des Pres and Wertmüller as outsiders (who can only surmise). Furthermore, he reminds us that he and other survivors will soon be dead, and that soon there will be no one left to correct the misapprehensions of the uninformed public. Bettelheim privileges one way of knowing (to have been “there”;) above all others, though as a scientist, he simultaneously occupies the position and assumes the authority of objective observer. Neither scientist nor survivor, Des Pres is granted no position in the debate as Bettelheim construes it.
This dismissal doubtless infuriated Des Pres, who arguably felt that his status as academic and literary critic gave him a right to discuss what are certainly literary texts. Bettelheim’s assumption that his own credentials as survivor and psychoanalyst made him an expert on film and literary theory might have further irritated the younger scholar.89 Des Pres’ response was to publish what can only be called a nasty personal attack on Bruno Bettelheim entitled “The Bettelheim Problem.”; It might have been more accurately labeled, “My Bettelheim Problem,”; or even “Our Bettelheim problem,”; since it addresses the question of authority over a subject (the Holocaust) in a particular social and cultural context, rather than some observed phenomenon in physics or mathematics. In this response to Bettelheim’s 1979 book, Surviving and Other Essays, Des Pres takes on Bettelheim’s claims of authority directly:
The general view has long been that Bettelheim speaks from a privileged position, and he himself has fostered this attitude. He has always stressed his own “camp experience”; as the basis for his authority in such matters. And by calling himself “a survivor of the camps”; he suggests a kind of archetypal identity which might include any camp, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belsen, from which survivors of the Holocaust emerged.90
The careful placement of quotations around the phrases “camp experience”; and “survivor of the camps”; calls into question the legitimacy of Bettelheim’s claim of authenticity.
Authenticity is the subject of the essay. Des Pres argues that Bettelheim’s credentials as a survivor are, at the very least, inflated and, at worst, outright forgeries. He rails at the critics who acclaim his opponent, the ones who, like the New York Review of Books, give Bettelheim “laudatory reviews,”; and accord him “absolute authority.”;91 Des Pres quickly establishes that Bettelheim has been criticized (“discredited”;) by other survivors, who themselves dispute the legitimacy of Bettelheim’s self-declared survivor status. In his introduction, Des Pres pits the survivors who “take exception to Bettelheim’s assessment of their experience,”; against the “literary and scholarly community still largely [accepting] Bettelheim’s position as the final word on men and women caught in extreme situations.”;92 Thus, Des Pres aligns himself with the “real”; survivors, against the bulk of his colleague and peers who have accepted the world of the “false”; survivor. The essay is staged as a conflict between “Bettelheim and other survivors”; (one against the many) and between “eyewitness testimony and academic theorizing.”;93
Des Pres’ Bettelheim is a monomaniacal control freak with a god complex: he has created his Orthogonic School for autistic children as a “uniquely self-contained world”;—an inverse form of the concentration camps in which he was incarcerated by the Nazis—where he is able to engage in the “suspect practices”; of “summoning… moral and emotional endorsement for his ideas by presenting them within the framework of his identity as a man who endured ‘the camps’ and as a sort of miracle worker with ‘hopeless’ children.”;94 As he plays out his fantasies on helpless youths, Des Pres asserts, Bettelheim “uses his special status in order to discredit people whose position questions or intrudes on his own,”;95 and to claim that his critics are closet Nazis. Des Pres’ indignation at Bettelheim’s tactics is palpable, since he believes that Bettelheim is guilty of exactly the crimes that he accuses Des Pres and Lina Wertmüller of committing: “By arguing that prisoners identified with the SS, Bettelheim openly declares that survivorship supports the validity of Nazi principles.”;96 The parameters of the argument are described in the following parody of an R.D. Laing “knot”:
Bettelheim: I am a survivor, so I know. Furthermore, I am a psychoanalyst, so I know that I know.
Des Pres: I believe that only survivors know, but I do not agree with you. I know of survivors who do not agree with you. I think you are wrong.
Bettelheim: You are not a survivor. Only those who are survivors know. Only survivors who are psychoanalysts know that they know. I am a survivor and a psychoanalyst, therefore I know, and I know that I know.
Des Pres: You are not a real survivor. I agree with real survivors, and I do not agree with you.
Bettelheim: I am so a real survivor, and you are a Nazi, whether you know it or not. If you were not a Nazi, you would agree with me.
Des Pres: I am not a Nazi, you are. Real survivors think you are a Nazi, too.
Three pages into “The Bettelheim Problem,”; Des Pres resorts to the same kind of name-calling Bettelheim employed in “Surviving”;: Bettelheim indulges in “characteristic”; misuse of facts, “distortion”; that is “pointed and cruel,”; and sustains a “blame-the-victim syndrome”; that Des Pres compares to Hitler’s own.97
Des Pres’ most substantive complaint is that Bettelheim has misread him and others—perhaps deliberately—in order to bolster his own argument that autonomous acts of resistance were the only morally correct response to Nazi terror tactics. Des Pres claims that Bettelheim minimizes the efforts of those who struggled in the camp and ghetto underground, and that he fails to recognize the manner in which mutual assistance operated as resistance in the camp environment. While Bettelheim places emphasis on the inability of prisoners to free themselves, Des Pres underlines the manner in which prisoners “had organized themselves to try.”;98 In Des Pres’ estimation, Bettelheim’s refusal to focus on “the struggle to survive”; even in hopeless circumstances reduces him to making senseless and dangerous comparisons between “walking to the gas chamber”; and “committing suicide.”;99 Des Pres writes:
There is something here entirely characteristic of Bettelheim: whenever he speaks of damage and destruction, he describes it in ways which make it appear as if the victims did it to themselves…. Being driven into the gas chambers was “suicide.”; Or of the dead: “they had given up their will to live and permitted their death tendencies to engulf them.”;100
Des Pres poses in ironic contrast to Bettelheim’s demand for autonomous acts of resistance the psychoanalyst’s own path to freedom: “through money and political influence at the highest level, including a special invitation to come to America at a time when ships like the St. Louis were being turned away, he got out of the camps.”;101 Such privilege places him, Des Pres argues, outside of the category of the common survivor and his “identification”; with the experience of those survivors is “misleading”; and “sad.”; If Bettelheim presumes to the role of literary critic, Des Pres is not averse to trying his hand at psychoanalysis.
Bettelheim has constructed a theory in which survival is “an act of individual self-assertion,”; Des Pres suggests, only because Bettelheim’s own emotional needs are met by such a description. In Des Pres’ opinion, Bettelheim’s world view depends upon the assumption that he is superior to his peers, an uncommon prisoner and an uncommon man. Rather than describing the response of the common prisoner, Bettelheim reveals himself when he suggests that Jews interned in the camps identified with their Nazi oppressors. Why else, asks Des Pres, would Bettelheim focus so strongly on his “autonomous”; act of defiance, which, after all, “entailed a crucial occasion on which Bettelheim managed to act in a way ‘acceptable to an SS soldier,’ a kind of behavior which ‘did not correspond to what he expected of Jewish prisoners.”;102 Why else would such contempt for the judgment of others run through his entire corpus of work, from studies of behavior in concentration camps, to behavior in the nuclear family? Des Pres carefully undermines our belief in Bettelheim’s balance and even his sanity by excerpting passages from his works in which he compares, “without qualification, the predicament of the psychotic child with the situation of concentration camp inmates.”;103 Some of these parallels are indeed outrageous, and Des Pres makes the most of them, commenting pointedly that
Equating parents with “the death camps of Nazi Germany”; is an extreme example of Bettelheim’s habit of crossing worlds, an instance which shows forth the obsessive character of his vision and opens others of his well-known pronouncements to question.104
At the very least, it undermines Bettelheim’s argument that Des Pres and Wertmüller are comparable to Nazis, since, as Des Pres is quick to note, the psychoanalyst cries “Nazi!”; with all the consistency of the boy who cried, “Wolf!”;105
After undermining Bettelheim’s credibility, Des Pres attacks him for presuming to engage in literary or film criticism in such a naive and uninformed fashion. Bettelheim’s tendency to “cling to the Romantic notion that the protagonist, simply by virtue of occupying center stage, carries the endorsement of the artist and audience”;106 is obvious both in his writings on Seven Beauties, and in the analysis of fairy tales for which Bettelheim is famous. Des Pres is also markedly upset by Bettelheim’s tendency to use excerpts from the Wertmüller film to prove points about The Survivor, from which, as Des Pres notes, Bettelheim never bothered to “quote a complete sentence or produce a concrete example of the Nazi doctrine he says the book embodies.”;107 In the middle of the essay, Des Pres’ frustration with the tendency of critics to bow in the face of Bettelheim’s (to him) inexplicable authority is given full rein: he castigates a critic who has given Bettelheim’s work a positive review in the New York Times, and, in the short section titled “Kalman/Kogon,”; Des Pres once again describes Bettelheim’s misreading of Eugene Kogon’s memoirs, and further ridicules the psychoanalyst for his lack of awareness (or suppression of) specific historical facts that not only undermine, but completely invalidate his argument.
Having painted Bettelheim as an arrogant, but ultimately pathetic clown, Des Pres can afford to be charitable in his conclusion, commenting that “Bettelheim’s moral indignation seems so fervent and sound, his plunders… so vulnerable… his self-appointment and sense of vindication… so vigorous and unreflective that we cannot but wonder if in some fundamental way he does not see the unhappy and misleading statements that abound in his work.”;108 Des Pres began his conclusion by claiming that he had “initially accepted Bettelheim’s view,”; but it is clear by his final words that he (and by implication, the reader) has outgrown it. The psychoanalyst who claimed that in the concentration camps prisoners were subject to infantile regression, is himself painted as infantile in Des Pres’ critique, his authority reduced to the status of a tantrum, and his authenticity to a sad fantasy or an outright lie.
Though it appears on the surface that Des Pres’ goal in “The Bettelheim Problem”; is to usurp his “father’s”; power, any cursory reading of his larger body of criticism demonstrates that this is not the case. Des Pres, an outsider who concedes that only survivors can “know”; the Holocaust, is merely substituting one authority figure for another. The “knower”; who takes Bettelheim’s place is the writer Elie Wiesel. In another essay, anthologized in the same collection as “The Bettelheim Problem,”; Des Pres asserts Wiesel’s right to demand silence of everyone (including other survivors) while Wiesel struggles to articulate the Holocaust on his own terms.109 There is a profound contradiction between Des Pres’ support of Wiesel’s ability to speak for all survivors (and the dead) and his disqualification of Bettelheim, for certainly the trials of the fifteen-year-old boy in Auschwitz are no more representative of the whole than the tribulations of the adult psychoanalyst in Buchenwald. And while Des Pres condemns Bettelheim for the fact that all of his theoretical writings seem to represent an attempt to work through his concentration camp experience, he lauds Wiesel for the same tendency: “[W]hat makes Wiesel and his work outstanding has to do first with his unique position as a writer and a witness, and then with the fact that everything in his work relates directly or indirectly to that overwhelming event we call the Holocaust.”110
Des Pres is engaged in an ongoing attempt to mythologize the survivor, and his praise of Wiesel is akin to the adoration displayed by mortals to their gods. Perhaps that explains why his denunciation of Bettelheim is so bitter—the psychoanalyst is more than a poor scholar; he is a fallen idol. This is not my construction—it is Des Pres’ own, and it is most explicitly delineated in the introduction to The Survivor, where he notes that the Holocaust is a subject that one handles “not well, not finally…. Not to betray it is as much as I can hope for.”;111 He uses “a kind of archaic, quasi-religious vocabulary,”; because he believes that “only a language of ultimate concern can be adequate to facts such as these.”;112 Because he insists on observing the testimony of survivors through a filter of religious romanticism he is unable to build a methodological framework that can successfully support a body of survivor testimony that is often contradictory, fallacious, and incomplete. It is not pure. It is not unified. It is not consistent. When faced with this dilemma, Des Pres’ only recourse is to deny the “survivorhood”; of the author of the problematic text.
Even though Des Pres admits that prisoners responded in different ways to the camp environment—some became Muselmänner, some committed suicide, some resisted dramatically, some collaborated, some endured—Des Pres cannot account for any diversity in survivor responses after the trauma has ended. His survivors are frozen in time, always already in the midst of the traumatic universe. Nor do they ever leave it; in Des Pres’ analysis, the trauma is never “over”; for survivors. Thus he does not acknowledge that there is a difference between experience within the traumatic universe, and the ways in which different people live out their lives after the traumatic event is past.
Even if Des Pres is correct in his assumption that on some level the trauma is always present in the life of the survivor, the form in which it is “not over”; is still influenced by the interaction of a variety of personal, social and political forces that combine to create responses as diverse as, for example, those of Elie Wiesel, Bruno Bettelheim, Tadeusz Borowski, Jean Améry, Charlotte Delbo, and Primo Levi. Succumbing to his urge to designate survivor testimony as sacred, he neglects to note that testimony—by its nature—takes place after the fact. The act of writing means that one has survived, however briefly, to write. The possession of, and the ability to make use of, a pen and paper indicate at least a measure of the “civilized circumstance”; that Des Pres claims extremity has stripped away.
Once he has accorded survivor testimony sacred status, Des Pres makes the mistake of assuming that simply because each survivor claims to speak for a collective whole, each survivor must have the same vision. He does not take into account the possibility that, since he or she was traumatized as a member of a group, the survivor might have a need to identify with that group and to portray his or her experience as representative of the group experience, whether it was or not. Des Pres disagrees with Bettelheim’s interpretation of the “camp experience,”; and with his claim to speak for all survivors, yet he does not embrace the notion that there was a multiplicity of experience; instead, he claims that Bettelheim was “wrong”; (and a “false”; survivor), and that Wiesel is “right”; (and a “true”; survivor). This belief in the survivors’ collective past, a “past identical for everyone who came through the common catastrophe,”;113 is one of the premises of Des Pres’ argument, and serves as the rationalization for his idealization of the survivor as “a moral type.”;114
The reduction of the survivor from human being to “type”; supports the central thesis of The Survivor, which is that survivors who “bear witness”; to atrocity provide the catalyst for the “progress”; of social conscience:
Horrible events take place, that is the (objective) beginning. The survivor feels compelled to bear witness, that is the (subjective) middle. His testimony enters public consciousness, thereby modifying the moral order to which it appeals, and that is the (objective) end. Conscience, in other words, is a social achievement. At least on its historical level, it is the collective effort to come to terms with evil, to distill a moral knowledge equal to the problems at hand. Only after the ethical content of an experience has been made available to all members of the community does conscience become the individual “voice”; we usually take it for.115
Des Pres describes the survivor as a specialized organ in the body politic. He or she is the instrument of transmission, the bearer of information (“truth”;) that catalyzes a shift in the “moral order.”; In Des Pres’ work, there is no sense that this is a function of limited duration. This is not a stage through which the survivor passes, but a permanent state. Des Pres’ survivor is motivated to bear witness on what can only be described as a biological level, and “involuntary reaction to extreme situations,”; and thus akin to “a scream.”; He writes:
[P]erhaps it is a scream—a special version of the social animal’s call to its group—and thus a signal of warning and appeal which on the human level becomes the process of establishing a record and thereby transmitting information vital for both moral and practical reasons. We learn what to fear, what to call evil and therefore what to call good, by absorbing the costly experience of others.116
There is a terrible confusion in Des Pres’ analysis. On the one hand, he is discussing a moral order of “good”; and “evil”; that transcends the physical body and is lodged in some spiritual realm. The survivor, viewed from this perspective, is an “example”; that impels the receiver of testimony to participate in a life of “moral resistance”; to evil. On the other hand, his description of the “special nature”; of survivors has a quasibiological foundation: in extremity man is stripped of the trappings of “civilization,”; and is thus somehow purified of the “delicate, efflorescing extensions of selfhood which civilization creates and fosters.”;117 The prisoner’s horror and revulsion at the conditions under which he or she is forced to live is simultaneously an animal reaction and the response of a civilized person to the violation of a cultural taboo. The “scream”; of survivors is both an involuntary physiological response and a call to moral order. Our reaction to the survivor is automatic—the instinctive response of a social animal to a warning of danger—at the same time that it is an ethical judgment based on the “certainty”; of eyewitness testimony. This ambiguity is never resolved, in part because it is never fully acknowledged. In the Preface of The Survivor, Des Pres informs us that survivor testimony reveals “a world of actual living conditions,”; of ways of life which are the basis and achievement of life in extremity.”; His conflation of “actual living conditions”; and “ ways of life,”; and of the “basis”; and the “achievement”; of “life in extremity”; prevent him first from recognizing, and then from resolving this dilemma.
Bettelheim is caught in a similar trap. As a scientist, he desires to describe the process of psychological adjustment to life in extremity, and then the reintegration into “normal”; society. However, he also desires a survivor who can stand as a moral example. Unlike Des Pres, who takes a specific example of atrocity and generates a universal theory, Bettelheim constructs a rather neutral theoretical model, and then spends a great deal of time emphasizing the uniqueness of the Holocaust. This places him in the rather difficult position of both generating a model of reaction to extremity—which Bettelheim asserts has multiple uses, and which he employs in, for example, his work with autistic children—and insisting on the historical specificity of the Holocaust. Thus, he winds up defending the uniqueness of the Holocaust against all comers, from those who would judge it “an event deserving of most severe criticism but commonplace nonetheless.”;118 Unsurprisingly, when faced with the arguments of those who believe other massacres, genocidal campaigns and physical assaults are comparable to the Holocaust, Bettelheim resorts to name calling: “These comparisons consciously or unconsciously take the side of the Nazis against that of the Jews, and this subtle siding with the Nazis is one of the most pernicious aspects of the attitude of all too many American intellectuals toward the extermination of American Jews.”;119 Once again, Bettelheim combines his authority as a survivor and a psychoanalyst, claiming privileged knowledge of the Holocaust as well as an ability to judge both the conscious and subconscious motives of those who disagree with him.
Bettelheim and Des Pres represented two poles around which the first generation of Holocaust scholars and critics clustered. The decision to align oneself with either Bettelheim or Des Pres often seemed to have more to do with politics than with disciplinary affiliation: liberals tended to quote Des Pres, while conservatives tended to quote Bettelheim. Proponents of either school of thought uncritically embraced the contradictions their chosen man embodied, resting their arguments on the authority of the testimonial voice, and on the alleged ability of the critic to discern “meaning”; in survivor narratives. It was not until the late 1980s that critical literature on the Holocaust—influenced by trends in contemporary theory—began to question not only the authority of that voice, but the notion that such a “voice”; even existed. These new critics are the heirs of Bettelheim and Des Pres, and they cannot seem to escape the pitfalls of internal contradiction, of a criticism that wants, at once, to preserve the sanctity of survivor texts and to fit those texts into some coherent critical framework. The path of these arguments can be traced by looking at the progression exemplified by the following three works: James E Young’s Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (1988); Lawrence Langer’s Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (1991); and Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (1992).120
Young begins his book as, explicitly, a second generation project: “This study began when I realized that none of us coming to the Holocaust afterwards can know these events outside the ways they are passed down to us.”;121 Thus he shifts his focus from the traditional subject of those who study Holocaust literature—representations of the “horror of mass murder”;—to a new question: “the narrative representation of events themselves”; or “how historical memory, understanding, and meaning are constructed in Holocaust narrative.”;122 Young underlines the interdisciplinary nature of his work, which he calls “literary historiography.”; He is careful not to link his project to “contemporary theory and its often all-consuming vocabulary,”; but rather to the critical impulse exemplified by Azariah de’Rossi, a Jewish historiographer of the 16th century. Despite his attempt to distance himself from those (unnamed) recent critics who divert “attention from historical realities,”; he is obviously and admittedly influenced by such scholars as Roland Barthes, Frederic Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Hayden White.
Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust undertakes a dangerous project, and Young moves to build immediate defenses against the charges he assumes will be leveled at him. By employing contemporary critical techniques, he argues, he will be able “to explore both the plurality of meanings in the Holocaust these texts generate and the actions that issue from these meanings outside of the texts.”;123 Though he knows his tools can be used fro “mere”; deconstruction, he assures his readers that he is engaged in a project of “re-historicizing”; the Holocaust, rather than “de-historicizing”; it. In order to begin his task of re-historicizing, he delicately suggests that it is perhaps time for critics to give up their roles as “guardians”; of Holocaust texts, and to cease protecting and privileging “texts like the Holy Scriptures and survivors’ testimony from ‘heretical’ readings that undermine these texts’ authority.”;124 At the same time that Young suggests that such “protection”; is no longer appropriate critical practice, he hastens to assure the reader that his own inquiries into the nature of Holocaust literature are “pursued with care and tact”; and “sensitivity.”;
Young attempts to bridge the gap between “testimony”; and “interpretation,”; while at the same time remaining adamant that the testimony of the survivor is still “privileged,”; though no longer “sacred.”; His strategy is to separate the “authenticity”; of the survivor narrative from its “authority as ‘fact.’”; He is exploring, in short, the attempt of survivors to fix the traumatic events of the Holocaust in their texts: “Their impossible task is then to show somehow that their words are material fragments of experiences, that the current existence of their narrative is causal proof that its objects also existed in historical time.”;125
For Holocaust survivors who may have lived solely to bear witness and who believed they could bring the realia of their experiences forward in time through their words, the perception that their experiences now seem to dematerialize beneath the point of a pen becomes nearly unbearable…. The more insistently a survivor-scribe attempts to establish the “lost link”; between his text and his experiences in the text, which ironically—and more perversely still—further undermines the sense of unmediated fact the writer had attempted to establish. Both the writer’s perceived absence from the text and his efforts to relink himself to it thus seem to thwart—and thereby inflame still further—the testimonial impulse.126
What Holocaust testimony offers us, Young asserts, in “knowledge—not evidence—of events,”; the “conceptual presuppositions through which the narrator has apprehended experience.”;127 Young sidesteps the Bettelheim/Des Pres contest of “my survivor is more authentic than your survivor”; by claiming that “it is not a matter of whether one set of facts is more veracious than another, or whether the facts have been transformed in narrative at all.”; Rather, he argues, we must determine “how writers’ experiences have been shaped both in and out of narrative.”;128
And this is the approach Young takes when he generates his defense of D.M. Thomas’ controversial book, The White Hotel. Young details the controversy that appeared in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement in March of 1982. Critics charged that Thomas had lifted material from the text of Anatole Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar in order to infuse his fictional work with “documentary authority.”; Young points out that the Kuznetsov work was also a novel, based “upon the verbatim transcription of yet another testimonial source… the remembrances of the Babi Yar survivor, Dina Pronicheva….”;129 Young also notes that the “interspersing of authentic witness with less authentic finds its place as a narrative technique in all kinds of Holocaust documentary literature, especially in the memoirs,”; and warns us that from “invoking the ‘spiritual authority of authentic testimony’ … it is only a short step to fabricating it altogether within a text, whether it is called ‘fictional’ or ‘nonfictional.’”;130 What Young is in fact attacking is the whole notion of documentary literature, with “its relentless insistence on denying its provisionality, not revealing it”;—a denial that is “accomplished ingenuously by the unconscious internalizations of the ethos of one’s tradition, or conscientiously by the writer on an ideological mission….”;131 This is a profound and radical departure from the claims of authority voiced by Bettelheim and the acceptance of survivor authority pronounced by Des Pres.
Young wishes to legitimate discussion of the Holocaust as metaphor, force the recognition that representations of events are always already mediated: “even the Holocaust can never lie outside of literature, or understanding, or telling.”;132 Furthermore, he insists that we engage the question of what the Holocaust itself has come to represent, acknowledging the irony of the fact that “once an event is perceived to be without precedent, without adequate analogy, it would in itself become a kind of precedent for all that follows: a new figure against which subsequent experiences are measured and grasped.”;133 Young’s point is that memory moves in two directions, shaping our interpretations of the past and the present: “Experiences, stories and texts of the ancient past remain the same in themselves; but their meanings, their echoes, causes and effects, and their significance all changed with the addition of new experiences in the lives of these texts’ interpreters.”;134 This is indeed a slippery slope, and one that Bettelheim and Des Pres refused to set foot upon.
In a chapter devoted to exploring Holocaust imagery in the work of American poet Sylvia Path—neither a Jew nor a survivor of the Holocaust—young opposes the critics who attack Plath for her use of concentration camp and Holocaust metaphors, arguing for the legitimacy of using the Holocaust as “a figure, a universal point of reference for all kinds of evil, oppression and suffering,”; just as we accept the legitimacy of comparing “our lot with that of the Jews escaping Egypt, or the destruction of cities in wartime with that of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.”;135 Language, argues Young, absorbs experiences, embodies them, and thus preserves them long after the “authentic witnesses”; are gone.136 Young moves from a focus on the survivor to a claim that language itself is a repository of memory—a radical departure. For if the survivor is the repository of memory, then memory is always an internal event, which can be represented only incompletely (only being is believing); but if language becomes the repository of memory, then the representations exist before and outside the individual, who then interprets his or her own experience with the representational tools at hand. In the latter case, no experience is “pure”; or “true”; since is necessarily mediated by a kind of cultural library of symbols that limit and guide interpretation. Young concludes:
[S]o long as we are dependent on the “vocabulary”; of our culture and its sustaining archetypes, it may not be possible to generate entirely new responses to catastrophe. It may now be possible, however, to respond from within our traditional critical paradigms with self-critical awareness of where traditionally conditioned responses lead us in the world…. Critical reading can lead not only to further understanding of sacred and modern literary texts, but also to new understanding of the ways our lives and these texts are inextricably bound together.137
Where Young focuses on the manner in which the critic/reader is trapped by the representational structure that has been bestowed upon him by his culture, Lawrence Langer’s Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory attempts to define the complicated position of the testifying survivor:
Testimony is a form of remembering. The faculty of memory functions in the present to recall a personal history vexed by traumas that thwart smooth-flowing chronicles. Simultaneously, however, straining against what we might call disruptive memory is an effort to reconstruct a semblance of continuity in a life that began as, and now resumes what we would consider, a normal existence. “Contemporality”; becomes the controlling principle of these testimonies, as witnesses struggle with the impossible task of making their recollections of the camp experience coalesce with the rest of their lives. If one theme links their narratives more than any other, it is the unintended, unexpected, but invariably unavoidable failure of such efforts.138
Langer focuses on the repeated attempts of survivors to externalize their memories of the Holocaust in the tapes of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies established at Yale University in 1982. He is suspicious of language, and believes that the “vocabulary”; that Young describes confines those who have not experienced the Holocaust to inadequate and misleading representations since they are necessarily bound by traditional forms:
[H]olocaust commentary gives birth to its own involuntary tensions: the habit of verbal reassurance, though a kind of internal balancing act, , tries to make more manageable for an uninitiated audience (and the equally uninitiated author?) impossible circumstances…. Tributes are cheering; memorials are sad. Language often seems to be the fulcrum tilting us, as in this instance, away from one and toward the other.139
But neither are the survivors able to escape this trap, for the very telling of the tale implies a narrative structure that is counter to the traumatic experience it attempts to represent. To account for this paradox, Langer uses the categories he calls “common memory”; (mémoire ordinaire) and “deep memory,”; (mémoire profonde)—drawn from Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo’s memoirs—claiming that survivors move back and forth between common and deep memory and employ (most often unconsciously) a sort of dual vision—”doubling”;—to contain the contradictions of their past and present experience. Langer’s interest, then, is in what he calls the “incoherence”; of video testimony, which escapes the “appearance of form”; (beginning, middle, end) given by a written narrative. Video narrative demands an “active hearer“;—we must
Suspend our sense of the normal and to accept the complex immediacy of a voice reaching us simultaneously from the secure present and the devastating past. That complexity, by forcing us to redefine our role as audience throughout the encounter, distinguishes these testimonies from regular oral discourse as well as from written texts.140<
The “confrontation”; between videotaped survivor narrative and active hearer “begins in separate narrative and ends in collective memory….”;141 But the memory is inevitably incomplete, for the missing voices are always the voices of the dead, who can only be spoken for. In Langer’s words, “Oral testimony is a living commentary on the limits of autobiographical narrative, when the theme is such unprecedented atrocity.”;142 To explain the rupture, the failure of memory and language, Langer defines the Holocaust as “at once a lived even and a ‘died’ event: the paradox of how one survives a died event is one of the most urgent (if unobtrusive) topics of [Holocaust survivor] testimonies….”;143 But Langer himself can’t escape the paradox—the impossibility of representing the “died event”; becomes apparent as he attempts to describe the survivor’s doubled self using a critical terminology invented for this very purpose. The terminology—jargon, really—is as fractured and incoherent as the stories it proposes to define and contain: deep memory, common memory, anguished memory, humiliated memory, tainted memory, unheroic memory. Langer’s active hearer is charged with the task of discriminating between these categories and unraveling the threads of memory within the survivor testimony—distinctions which the survivors are, in his estimation, incapable of making. Survivors, in Langer’s descriptions, are confused, bewildered, unconscious, frustrated, silenced, or anguished. They speak the truth, but do not know what it is they are saying. Thus, it is left to the critical audience to interpret the survivor’s narrative, to gloss the text; in fact, Langer’s theory requires a critical audience for the whole story to be told, for only the informed audience is capable of hearing the silence, of explicating the revealing incoherence: “Testimonies resting unseen in archives are like books locked in vaults: they might as well not exist. We use books to expand consciousness; we must use these videotapes for the same purposes.”;144 Langer charges the reader with the responsibility of “interpretive remembering”;:
An underlying discontinuity assaults the integrity of the self and threatens the very continuity of the oral narrative. Perceiving the imbalance is more than just a passive critical reaction to a text. As we listen to the shifting idioms of the multiple voices emerging from the same person, we are present at the birth of a self made permanently provisional as a result of fragmentary excavations that never coalesce into a single, recognizable monument to the past.145
Langer’s survivor is a multiple personality who can never know herself, who can only be known from the outside, by others, and who—having lived past the moment of her death—is not even a subject in her own self-constitution, but a vehicle for the subjectification of those who did not survive the Holocaust: “The ‘people who have perished’ emerge as the real subject of the testimonies, while the circumstances of their death define the unheroic memory that tries to reclaim them, as it does the surviving self diminished by their absence and by its own powerlessness to alter their doom.”;146 He continues: “This memory, and the loss it records, has meaning only insofar as it engages the consciousness of us as audience. Otherwise, it remains mere archival anecdote.”;147
Langer’s conclusion will sound familiar to almost every critical theorist in feminist or in African-American studies:
One of the unavoidable conclusions of unreconciled understanding is that we can inhabit more than one moral space at the same time—witnesses in these testimonies certainly do—and feel oriented and disoriented simultaneously. Another is that ‘damaged personhood’ is one of the inevitable prices we pay for having lived in the time of the Holocaust, provided we acknowledge our active role as audience to the content of these testimonies. Indeed, it would be more than ingenuous to contend that the sources of personhood in the twentieth century must be confined to this particular atrocity alone. History inflicts wounds on individual moral identity that are untraceable to personal choice or qualitative frameworks—though the scars they leave are real enough, reminding us that theoretical hopes for an integral life must face the constant challenge to that unity by self-shattering events like the Holocaust experience.148
Langer proposes that there is an intersection between individual psychic trauma and history, that this intersection (and this injury) is not confined to the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors, and that the appropriate response to such an intersection is active involvement on the part of a hearing audience. The fact that there is no “healing”; from the Holocaust, that the wounds (individual and communal) are permanent and unredeemable, serves as a reminder for all who are willing to pay attention that “the organizing impulse of moral theory and art”; masks a painful complexity that is difficult or impossible to contain. It is exactly this complexity that feminist and African-American literary critics have been attempting to articulate, as early as W.E.B. DuBois defined the “veil”; that divides African-American consciousness.
… this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity…. Two souls, who thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.149
As feminist critic Barbara Johnson reminds us, “Unification and simplification are fantasies of domination, not understanding”;150—an assertion with which Langer would doubtless concur. That Langer has arrived at these conclusions by himself, without apparent familiarity with either African-American or feminist critical works is testament both to the isolation in which white male critics tend to work and to the commonalities between the various literatures of trauma. Langer’s focus on the survivor’s voice places him in opposition to both Young and Felman/Laub.
Unlike Langer, Young insists that video testimony mediates a survivor’s memories in a highly structured fashion (“unified and organized twice-over… once in the speaker’s narrative and again in the narrative movement created in the medium itself”;151), and thus that video texts allow viewers to “become witness not to the survivors’ experiences but to the making of testimony and its unique understanding of events.”;152 Young’s audience is passive, analytic and judgmental—the text is contained safely within the filmic framework and though it refers to and draws upon cultural representations, it does not transcend the medium; it does not demand interaction. Young favors trained professionals—whether they are literary critics or, as he describes in his chapter on video testimony—trained psychiatrists conducting interviews with survivors:
Of all possible kinds of interviewers, trained psychoanalysts and therapists may well be the best qualified to elicit testimony. Trained to encourage narrative telling and interpretation, and through them insight into traumatic events, with a minimum of new psychic damage or further trauma, the psychiatrists who interview at Yale attempt as low a profile as possible.153
The combination of literary criticism and psychoanalysis has been irresistible to theorists dealing with the Holocaust, perhaps in part because it seems to allow them to transcend the contradictions embodied by Des Pres and Bettelheim and to resolve the tensions between literary critical strategies, between mythologization and medicalization, and between personal testimony and “objective”; analysis.
Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History is the result of a collaboration between Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub. Felman is a literary critic and Laub is a psychoanalyst who treats trauma survivors. There are seven chapters in the book—two by Laub, and the balance by Felman: the jointly written preface claims that their work has evolved “out of the encounter and the dialogue between these two professional perspectives, and between the mutually enhancing lessons of these different practices,”; and that these pieces “are… the product of this intellectual and conceptual interaction and of this continuous dialogue of insights, that has served both as the motivating and as the enabling force in the process of writing.”;154 The key passage in this preface follows:
As our ventures will bear witness to and as the concrete examples we narrate will show, the encounter with the real leads to the experience of an existential crisis in all those involved: students as well as teachers, narrators as well as listeners, testifiers as well as interviewers.155
The language chosen by Felman and Laub is the language of the survivor. They are not simply writing a critical study, they are “bearing witness”;—the “encounter with the real”; leads to an “existential crisis”; for all involved. Whereas Bettelheim and Des Pres focused on the authenticity of the survivor voice, Young concerned himself with the process of representation, and Langer placed his emphasis on interpretation, Felman and Laub are entirely concerned with the reenactment of the traumatic event in the psyches of those who “encounter the real.”; In this critical text, the survivor’s experience has been completely replaced by the experience of those who come in contact with the survivor’s testimony—an appropriative gambit of stunning proportion. We are treated to a new traumatic phenomenon: “the crisis of witnessing.”;
Felman’s opening chapter, “Education and Crisis, Or the Vicissitudes of Teaching,”; poses a series of initial questions:
Is there a relations between crisis and the very enterprise of education? To put the question even more audaciously and sharply: Is there a relation between trauma and pedagogy? In a post-traumatic century, a century that has survived unthinkable historical catastrophes, is there anything that we could have learned or that we should learn about education, that we did not know before? Can trauma instruct pedagogy, or can pedagogy shed light on the mystery of trauma? Can the task of teaching be instructed by the clinical experience, and can the clinical experience be instructed, on the other hand, by the task of teaching?156<
There are a number of interesting assumptions embodied in this paragraph. There is the equation of “crisis”; to “trauma.”; There is an assertion that this is “a post-traumatic century.”; There is the claim that certain historical catastrophes are “unthinkable.”; We expect, since this is a book about literary criticism, psychoanalysis, and trauma, that the answer to the questions posed above is a qualified “yes”;—which leads us to wonder exactly what is meant here by “trauma,”; “pedagogy,”; and “clinical experience.”; All of these definitions go without saying, all except the word “testimony,”; which is introduced in the second paragraph and which is described first as the act “of bearing witness to a crisis or a trauma,”;157 and, a short time later,
As a discursive practice as opposed to a pure theory. To testify—to vow, to tell, to promise and produce one’s own speech as material evidence for truth—is to accomplish a speech act, rather than to simply formulate a statement. As a performative speech act, testimony in effect addresses what in history is action that exceeds any substantialized significance, and what in happenings is impact that dynamically explodes any conceptual reifications and any constitutive delimitations.158
But the act of bearing witness is not, in Felman’s estimation, the sole act of the survivor; rather, it is placed in Freudian psychoanalytic terms, in the framework of the “psychoanalytic dialogue, an unprecedented kind of dialogue, in which the doctor’s testimony does not substitute itself for the patient’s testimony but resonates with it, because, as Freud discovers, it takes two to witness the unconscious.”;159 Felman’s analysis partakes of the worst sort of psychoanalytic pomposity, evident when she describes the testimonial videotapes in the Yale collection as
Autobiographical life accounts given by Holocaust survivors to volunteer, professionally trained interviewers, most of whom are psychoanalysts or psychotherapists. Within the context of these dialogic interviews, many of these Holocaust survivors in fact narrate their story in its entirety for the first time in their lives, awoken to their memories and to their past both by the public purpose of the enterprise (the collection and the preservation of first-hand, live testimonial evidence about the Holocaust), and more concretely, by the presence and involvement of the interviewers, who enable them for the first time to believe that it is possible, indeed, against all odds and against their past experience, to tell the story and be heard, to, in fact address the significance of their biography—to address, that is, the suffering, the truth, and the necessity of this impossible narration—to a hearing “you,”; and to a listening community.160
As French lesbian feminist critic Monique Wittig comments, the psychoanalyst sets him or herself up as the interpreter of the unconscious—only the “are allowed (authorized?) to organize and interpret psychic manifestations which will show the symbol in its full meaning.”;161 Setting aside the problem of determining whether or not the subject of an interview has ever told his story before “in its entirely,”; and the impossibility of knowing when any survivor’s story—even one recorded on videotape—is complete, we are still faced with a set of rather astonishing assertions about the role of the interviewers, whose mere presence somehow serves as an enabling force, bestowing on the survivor a sense of trust and self-confidence heretofore unattainable.
The appropriative nature of Felman’s project becomes most evident in her discussion of the progress of the class on testimonial literature that she taught at Yale. As students were exposed to Holocaust testimonies, they felt increasingly—in Felman’s words—”set apart,”; “obsessed,”; “at a loss, disoriented, and uprooted.”; In Felman’s eyes, the dimensions of the “crisis”; suffered by the class was “critical.”; After consulting Laub, she determined “that what was called for was for me to reassume authority as the teacher of the class, and bring the students back into significance.”;162 She began by giving an address to her students in which she compared the dysfunction in the classroom to the rupture of language suffered by Holocaust survivors:
I will suggest that the significance of the event of your viewing the first Holocaust videotape was, not unlike Celan’s own Holocaust experience, something akin to a loss of language; and even though you came out of it with a deep need to talk about it and to talk it out, you also felt that language was somehow incommensurate with it. What you felt as a “disconnection“; with the class was, precisely, an experience of suspension; a suspension, that is, of the knowledge that had been acquired in the class: you feel that you have lost it. But you are going to find it again….163
She believes that her course was a success, and she finds her proof in the fact that her students turned in final papers that she describes as “an amazingly articulate, reflective and profound statement of the trauma they had gone through and of the significance of their assuming the position of the witness.”;164 From here, she goes on to claim that the practice of teaching itself
takes place precisely only through a crisis; if teaching does not hit upon some sort of crisis, if it does not encounter either the vulnerability of the explosiveness of a (explicit or implicit) critical and unpredictable dimension, it has perhaps not truly taught; it has perhaps passed on some facts, passed on some information and some documents, with which the students or the audience—the recipients—can for instance do what people during the occurrence of the holocaust precisely did with information that kept coming forth but that no one could recognize, and that no one could therefore truly, learn, read or put to use.165
Not surprisingly, Felman sees parallels between teaching and psychoanalysis, just as she sees parallels between testifying and psychoanalysis. In fact, the three are often indistinguishable to her, as the following passage describing her interpretation of events in the classroom clearly illustrates:
When the story of the class—the story I am telling now—was for the first time, thus, narrated to the class itself in its final session, its very telling was a “crisis intervention.”; I lived the crisis with them, testified to it and made them testify to it. My own testimony to the class, which echoed their reactions, returning to them the expressions of their shock, their trauma and their disarray, bore witness nonetheless to the important fact that their experience, incoherent through it seemed, made sense, and that it mattered.166
Felman’s hubris is mirrored by Laub’s—manifest from the first page of his initial solo chapter, “Bearing Witness or the Vicissitudes of Listening.”; To Laub, the one who listens to a testimony is “the blank screen on which the event comes to be inscribed for the first time,”; and thus the listener “by definition”; must partake “of the struggle of the victim with the memories and residues of his or her traumatic past,”; and “to feel the victim’s victories, defeats and silences, know them from within, so that they can assume the form of testimony.”;167 It is the listener, and the survivor, who is the “enabler”; of the testimonial act; in fact, it is the “task”; of the witness to be “the one who triggers its initiation, as well as the guardian of its process and of its momentum.”;168 He makes no distinction between the primary trauma suffered by the Holocaust survivor and the sort of secondary stress suffered by the testimonial audience, claiming that the listener
can no longer ignore the question of facing death; of the limits of one’s omnipotence; of losing the ones that are close to us; the great question of our ultimate aloneness; our otherness from any other; our responsibility to and for our destiny; the question of loving and its limits; of parents and children, and so on.”;169
The survivor herself has disappeared from the picture, reappearing only as a device for pushing the listener to self-examination, to allow him to participate in “the reliving and reexperiencing of the event.”;170 Witting views psychoanalysis as a reinscription of the victimization of the survivor:
In the analytical experience there is an oppressed person, the psychoanalyzed, whose need for communication is exploited and who… has no other choice, (if s/he does not want to destroy the implicit contract which allows her/him to communicate and which s/he needs), than to attempt to say what s/he is supposed to say. They say that this can last for a lifetime—cruel contract, which constrains a human being to display his/her misery to an oppressor who is directly responsible for it, who exploits her/him economically, politically, ideologically and whose interpretation reduces this misery to a few figures of speech.171
Laub’s description of the drive to testify is at odds with Langer’s. For Langer, all testimony is inevitably failed testimony—the rupture in the narrative fabric cannot be “healed”; by telling and retelling. Laub is a psychoanalyst, however, and it is his business to heal people—permanent wounds such as Langer describes are inconceivable; all trauma, however severe, however delayed, can be resolved in the process of the talking cure. In his view, all survivors are impelled to speech: “None find peace in silence, even when it is their choice to remain silent.”;172 Laub is, in fact, unsure whether narrative precedes or succeeds survival: “The survivor did not only need to survive so that they could tell their story; they also needed to tell their story in order to survive.”;173 Both Langer and Laub posit an active audience, but Langer’s active hearer is responsible for formulating an interpretation based upon the recorded testimony of the survivor—the interaction is between hearer and text—while Laub’s active listener is an interventionist, facilitating (even demanding) that the survivor herself revise her experience in collaboration with the listener/analyst who Laub seems to feel is at least an equal partner in the construction of the narrative. Laub’s notion that no Holocaust text can be created without the participation of the interventionist listener is linked to his belief that the Nazis created a universe so completely destructive that one “could not bear witness to oneself.”;174 Borrowing from Bettelheim, Laub asserts that the Nazi system “convinced its victims, the potential witnesses from the inside, that what was affirmed about their ‘otherness’ and their inhumanity was correct and that their experiences were no longer communicable even to themselves, and therefore perhaps never took place.”;175 It is impossible to ignore how convenient this construction is for a psychoanalyst, who makes a living interpreting the thoughts and feelings of other human beings—what he has done is abridge the authority of the survivor to speak for herself, and to appropriate that authority.
The coupling of Laub’s personally appropriative interpretive strategy and Felman’s tendency to appropriate the “experience”; of the Holocaust leads to some remarkable conclusions, not least the complete exoneration of literary critic Paul de Man for his collaborationist political activities as a journalist in Belgium during World War II. Felman does not dispute the charge that de Man was a collaborator, but seeks to elaborate on his silence, which she argues comprises his testimony. Since it has become the business of these critics and analysts to interpret not only texts but silences, it is hardly surprising that it is the nature of de Man’s failure to speak that Felman addresses:
It is judged unethical, of course, to engage in acts that lent support to Germany’s wartime position; but it is also judged unethical to forget; and unethical, furthermore, to keep silent in relation to the war and to the Holocaust. The silence is interpreted as a deliberate concealment, a suppression of accountability that can only mean a denial of responsibility on de Man’s part.
I will argue that de Man’s silence has an altogether different personal and historical significance, and thus has much more profound and far-reaching implications than this simplistic psychological interpretation can either suspect or account for.176
“No doubt,”; Felman admits, “… the twenty-year-old Paul de Man made a grave mistake in judgment…”;177 She argues that his decades-old silence on the matter does not compound his mistake, but rather (reaching for an analogy with Captain Ahab—de Man translated Moby Dick during the war—and a reference to Baudelaire) represents a sort of suicide:
suicide as the recognition that what has been done is absolutely irrevocable, which requires one in turn to do something irreversible…. What appears to be an erasure of the past is in fact this quasi-suicidal, mute acknowledgment of a radical loss—or death—of truth, and therefore the acknowledgment of a radical loss—or death—of self; the realization that there can be no way back from what has happened, no possible recuperation.178
Since de Man was, as Felman admits, “a controversial yet widely admired and highly influential thinker and literary critic,”; and the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, and the information about his collaborationist activities stayed hidden until after his death in 1983, it seems a bit of a stretch to claim that de Man had committed any sort of suicide whatsoever. Felman claims that de Man’s later writing, which does not tell his story of the Holocaust, is by virtue of that fact, bearing “implicit witness to the Holocaust, not as its (impossible and failed) narrator (a narrator-journalist whom the war had dispossessed of his own voice) but as a witness to the very blindness of his own and others’ witness, a firsthand witness to the Holocaust’s historical disintegration of the witness.”;179 There is a wildly Orwellian quality to Felman’s argument—”he bore witness by virtue of the fact that he failed to bear witness”;—that seems to escape the confines of logic and sense. If speaking is speaking, and silence is speaking, then what possible way is there not to testify? When is silence silence, and when is silence speech? And who is to determine the meaning of things except for Felman, the self-styled interpreter? And on what ground does one stand to contest her interpretations?
For Felman, every “good”; representation of the Holocaust is described as a vehicle for evoking the Holocaust “experience,”; from her own class, to de Man’s silence, to Lanzmann’s epic documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah (which she compares to the testimony of the survivor Jan Karski):
I would now suggest that Lanzmann’s own trip is evocative of that of Karski: that Lanzmann, in his turn, takes us on a journey whose aim precisely is to cross the boundary, first from the outside world to the inside of the Holocaust, and then back from the inside of the Holocaust to the outside world.180
Felman, as is her habit, makes no distinction between real and metaphorical crossings. And that, in the end, is the danger of her work, and of its coupling with Laub’s psychoanalytic clinical musings. The threat that such a self-referential critical stance poses to progressive forces in literary criticism is fully borne out in the next chapter.
1 Jerry Samet, “The Holocaust and the Imperative to Remember,”; in Richard S. Gottlieb, ed., Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust (New York: Paulist Press) 1990: 418.
2 The following T-shirts were also popular products: 1) a shirt printed with the American flag, subtitled “Burn This!”;; 2) a shirt printed with a large peace symbol, subtitled “Footprint of the American Chicken”;; 3) a shirt bearing the slogan, “Nuclear reactors are built better than Jane Fonda.”;
3 The shirt bears a prominent copyright mark at the bottom of the design which reads © 1990 Wes Caton. I was unable to locate the artist for permission to reproduce the graphic. In the author’s collection.
4 At the time, I was a consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum where I began in the Oral History department, and subsequently worked with the staff of the “Learning Center”; to design the interactive multimedia computer displays intended to educate Museum visitors.
5 Jochen Schulte-Sasse and Linda Schulte-Sasse, “War, Otherness, and Illusionary Identifications with the state,”; Cultural Critique, Number 19, Fall 1991 (Special Issue: “The Economies of war”;): pp. 67-96: 85.
6 Mario Benedetti finds “ominous resemblances between Bush’s ‘New World Order’ and the ‘Neue Ordnung’ and ‘Ordine Nuovo’ of Hitler and Mussolini,”; La Epoca (4 May 1991), quoted in Noam Chomsky, “‘What We Say Goes’: The Middle East and the New World Order,”; in Collateral Damage: The ‘New World Order’ At Home And Abroad, Cynthia Peters, ed. (Boston: South End Press) 1992: 51.
7 Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press) 1982: 17.
8 Joseph Natoli, “Tracing a Beginning through Past Theory Voices,”; in Joseph Natoli, ed., Tracing Literary Theory (Urbana: University of Illinois) 1987: xix.
9 Bill Livant, “The Imperial Cannibal,”; in Ian Angus and Sut Jhally, eds., Cultural Politics in Contemporary America (New York: Routledge,, Chapman & Hall) 1989: 26-36. Livant claims, “Cultural politics in contemporary America”; is “politics of the passions.”;
10 See Lucy S. Dawidowicz, “Lies About the Holocaust,”; Commentary 70 (December 1980): 31-37. For an extensive treatment of Holocaust deniers see Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Plume) 1994. See also Pierre Vidal-Naquet, ed., Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust, Jeffrey Mehlman, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press) 1992.
11 See the index of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Also revisionists have carried their arguments to the broad audience of Usenet, Bitnet and Web-based bulletin boards, where they have sparked heated debate in various arenas. Revisionist strategy is to post an inflammatory revisionist article, and then to wait for the myriad angry responses of readers. Then they can legitimately begin to “answer”; every response, thus involving the entire electronic community in the argument with a flood of postings. When users complain about the high volume of posts put forward by the members of the revisionist group, the revisionists can cry censorship and provoke a second debate on that topic, keeping themselves and their claims in the readers’ eye.
12 Dawidowicz, “How They Teach the Holocaust,”; Commentary (December 1990): 25-32.
13 Ibid.: 25.
14 Ibid.: 31.
15 Margot Stern Strom and William S. Parsons, Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior (Watertown, MA: Intentional Educations, Inc.) 1982: 13.
16 Dawidowicz, “How They Teach the Holocaust”;: 25.
17 Strom and Parsons: 383.
18 Kobena Mercer, “’1968’: Periodizing Politics and Identity,”; in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge) 1992: 424-425.
19 Ibid.: 427.
20 Daniel Landes, “Anti-Semitism Parading as Anti-Zionism,”; in Michael Lerner, ed., Tikkun: An Anthology (Oakland, CA: Tikkun Books) 1992: 367.
22 Ibid.: 368.
24 Noam Chomsky, Language and Politics, C.P. Otera, ed. (New York: Black Rose Books) 1988: 528.
25 Ibid.: 528-529.
26 Ibid. 529.
28 Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (New York: Verso) 1991: 378. Though Chomsky has political views diametrically opposed to conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer and William Safire, his choice of metaphors is strikingly similar. Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post six days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, claims that what makes Hussein “truly Hitlerian is his way of dealing with neighboring states…. The diplomacy practiced by the fascist powers of the ‘30s was to accumulate massive military power for translation into immediate gain—territorial, economic, political—through extortion and, if still necessary, war.”; Charles Krauthammer, “Nightmare from the Thirties,”; editorial in the Washington Post, 27 July 1990.
29 Robert L. Friedman, “War and Peace in Israel,”; in Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf, eds., The Gulf War Reader: History Documents Opinions (New York: Times Books) 1991: 433. This article, originally titled “Israel’s Peace Movement Calls for War,”; was published in the 26 Feb 1990 issue of The Village Voice.
30 Stephen J. Solarz, “The Case for Intervention,”; in The Gulf War Reader: 271. This essay was originally published in the 7 and 14 Jan 1991 issues of The New Republic under the title “The Stakes in the Gulf.”; Solarz has been extremely active in the movement to revise the Viet Nam war, and his intent in this essay was to overcome “the Vietnam Syndrome”; that he believed caused the U.S. to hesitate before engaging in war in the Gulf. His theme: “In Vietnam no vital American interests were at stake. The crisis in the Gulf poses a challenge not only to fundamental American interests, but to essential American values”; (p. 269).
31 John B. Judis, “Jews and the Gulf: Fallout from the Six Week War,”; Tikkun: An Anthology: 131. This article originally appeared in Tikkun (May/June 1991).
32 Cornel West, “Black-Jewish Dialogue: Beyond Rootless Universalism and Ethnic Chauvinism,”; in Tikkun: An Anthology: 89.
33 Ibid.: 90.
34 Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York: Quill) 1967/1984: 484.
35 An exemplary text is Donald Will and Sheila Ryan, Israel and South Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press) 1990. This book is sold in many bookstores that cater specifically to African-American, black nationalist, and Afrocentric readers. Simply because I looked for and found no African-American literature that uses the Nazi/Jew Israeli/Palestinian analogy does not mean this literature does not exist (or that it has not been written since 1994, when I concluded my research). It is, however, a good indication that such a comparison is rare, even in the literature sold in bookstores that cater explicitly to black communities.
36 Ibid.: 483.
37 Ibid.: 486.
38 bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press) 1990.
39 Though there is an enormous amount of evidence of genocidal inter-tribal behavior on the African continent, as well as colonial genocidal practices (in the Congo, for example), this topic is rarely broached in discussions of “comparative”; holocausts. The genocidal war waged by the Tutsi against the Hutus in Burundi in 1972 resulted in the massacre of upwards of 200,000 Hutus in a three-month period, and in Rwanda (where the situation was reversed) the Hutus murdered about 100,000 Tutsis in 1959 and continued to persecute the Tutsi through 1964. Those few who have observed the results of the African genocides haven’t hesitated to make comparisons: Stan Meisler, the African correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote of his visit to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, “It is a little like entering Warsaw after World War II, and finding few Jews there,”; and that inveterate critic of atrocity, Bertrand Russell, called the killings in Rwanda “the most horrible and systematic human massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.”; However, such references have not entered the common discourse on the nature of the ‘Holocaust.’ See David Lamb, The Africans (New York: Vintage Books) 1983: 12-14.
40 Nina King, “What Happened at Duke,”; in Patricia Aufderheide, ed., Beyond PC: Toward a Politics of Understanding (St. Paul, MN: Greywolf Press) 1992. 120.
41 George F. Will, “Literary Politics,”; in Beyond PC: 24. Conservative critics like Will claim that there is an absolute standard by which “literature”; can be judged—most often called an “aesthetic”; measure—presumed to have no political location. Will and his ilk claim that the “great”; books that have traditionally comprised the canon taught in U.S. colleges and universities are selected on the basis of an objective standard of excellence—a standard that it just so happens no works by minority and/or female authors meet. In what must be one of the most arrogant assertions of the PC debate, Mortimer J. Adler (editor-in-chief of the 1990 edition of the Great Books of the Western World) boldly claims that “great books are relevant to human problems in every century, not just germane to current twentieth-century problems. A great book requires reading over and over, and has many meanings; a good book need be read no more than once, and need have no more than one meaning”; (Adler, “Multiculturalism, Transculturalism, and the Great Books,”; in Beyond PC: 60). In response, I refer the reader back to the Jerry Samet quote that heads this chapter.
42 Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, eds., The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence (New York: Routledge) 1989: 24.
43 Terrence Des Pres, “Holocaust Laughter?”; in The Writer Into the World: Essays 1973-1989 (New York: Viking) 1991: 277-278.
44 Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor (New York: Oxford) 1976: 155.
45 Elie A. Cohen, Human Behavior in the Concentration Camp 1954 (London: Free Association Publishing) 1988; Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart (Glencoe, IL: Free Press) 1960.
46 A Dutch citizen, Cohen was arrested and assigned as a transport doctor at the Westerbork transit camp from December 1942-September 1943. Cohen was imprisoned in Auschwitz I until January 1945, and he survived the death march to Mauthausen to bee interned in Melk until April of that year (Cohen: xxi). He was liberated by the Americans at Ebensee in May, 1945. Bettelheim was an Austrian citizen; he was arrested and imprisoned in Dachau within a few weeks of the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, transferred to Buchenwald, and then released by the Gestapo in 1939, when he immigrated to the United States (Des Pres, “Bettelheim Problem”;: 63).
47 Des Pres, The Survivor: 155.
48 Ibid.: 156.
49 Ibid.: 157.
50 Ibid.: 161.
52 Ibid.: 164.
53 Ibid.: 167.
54 Ibid.: 170.
55 Ibid.: 176.
56 Bruno Bettelheim, “Surviving,”; in Surviving and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books) 1979: 274. The essay originally appeared under the same title in The New Yorker (2 Aug 1976): 31-52. The original essay was slightly different from this anthologized version, but it is to the anthologized version that Des Pres responds.
57 Ibid.: 274
60 Ibid.: 275.
61 Ibid.: 276.
62 Ibid.: 278.
64 Ibid.: 279.
67 Ibid.: 281.
68 Ibid.: 285.
72 Ibid.: 287.
74 Ibid.: 289.
76 Ibid.: 290-291.
77 Des Pres, The Survivor: 157.
78 Ibid.: 158.
79 Ibid.: 160. The reference is to Eugene Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell, trans. By Heinz Norden (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux) 1953.
81 Bettelheim, “Surviving”;: 296.
82 Ibid.: 297
83 Des Pres, The Survivor: 37-38.
84 Ibid.: 42.
85 Ibid.: 49.
86 Ibid.: 39.
87 Ibid.: 47.
88 Bettelheim, “Surviving,”;: 313-314.
89 Textual critics are often annoyed when amateurs see a film or read a book and feel qualified to offer their opinions as if they constituted a serious analysis. This may be one of the reasons that literary criticism has joined other professions in its tendency to employ a lot of jargon. There is a valid argument that complex ideas require complex structures of theory and language, not easily accessible to the layperson, but an excess of jargon may also indicate a desire to exclude outsiders and preserve “secret”; knowledge.
90 Des Pres, “The Bettelheim Problem”;: 63.
92 Ibid.: 63-64.
93 Ibid.: 64. Des Pres is himself an academic theorist, of course, and with the benefit of distance, the reader may find him or herself remarking on the peculiar strategy of undermining one’s own authority in order to advance one’s viewpoint. This is, however, a common practice in the arena of debate about the Holocaust (and about other traumatic events, such as military conflicts) where the authority of those who were “there”; is accepted by all parties without question. In such circumstances, those who were not “there”; have to content themselves with asserting, in the manner of feuding schoolchildren, that “my survivor can lick your survivor.”;
95 Ibid.: 65. That Des Pres’ analysis might have been more accurate even than he suspected was suggested by a series of articles that appeared in the national press following Bettelheim’s death in 1990. Charles Pekow, a writer who as a child had attended the Orthogonic School, write: “The Bettelheim I knew was a man who while publicly condemning violence, physically abused children. And the Orthogonic School I knew was an Orwellian world where mail and reading was censored, where staff tried to monitor conversations, and few were permitted outside unescorted.”; William Blau, a counselor at the school (1949-1950) concurred: “I would characterize the atmosphere at the Orthogonic School, at that time, as the beginnings of a cult, with Dr. B. as the cult leader.”; Blau also commented on Bettelheim’s “limitless ability for self promotion.”; Alida Jatick, a computer programmer who had been an inmate of the Orthgonic School, claims that, “Bettelheim once pulled her out of shower and beat her, wet and naked, in front of a room full of people.”; Charles Pekow, “The Other Dr. Bettelheim,”; in The Washington Post, Outlook section (26 Aug 1990): C1-4.
96 Ibid.: 65. Italics mine.
97 Ibid.: 66-68.
98 Ibid.: 67.
100 Ibid.: 68.
101 Ibid.: 69.
102 Ibid.: 73.
103 Ibid.: 74.
104 Ibid.: 75.
105 Ibid.: 76. Des Pres makes an interesting aside in the text at this point: he uses Bettelheim’s rage at student antiwar protests in the 1960s, and his equation of those students with fascists of the “pre-Hitler days”; as yet another illustration of his point.
106 Ibid.: 76-77.
108 Ibid.: 86.
109 Terrence Des Pres, “The Authority of Silence in Elie Wiesel’s Art,”; Writing Into the World: 32.
110 Ibid.: 25.
111 Des Pres, The Survivor: v-vi.
112 Ibid.: vi.
113 Ibid.: 184.
114 Ibid.: 49.
115 Ibid.: 47.
116 Ibid.: 199-200.
117 Ibid.: 13-14. The most fascinating part of this argument is that the cleansing is accomplished by a literal “immersion in shit,”; the excremental assault to which Des Pres devotes an entire chapter of The Survivor. His rather bizarre reference to the Jewish tradition of ritual bathing passes without remark in most critical analyses.
118 Bruno Bettelheim, “The Holocaust—One Generation After,”; in Richard S. Gottlieb, ed., Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust (New York: Paulist Press) 1990: 381-382.
120 James E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press) 1988: Lawrence Langer, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1991; Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York: Routledge) 1992.
121 Young: vii.
123 Ibid.: 4.
124 Ibid.: 5.
125 Ibid.: 23.
126 Ibid.: 24-25.
127 Ibid.: 37.
128 Ibid.: 39.
129 Ibid.: 55.
130 Ibid.: 60.
131 Ibid.: 80.
132 Ibid.: 98.
133 Ibid.: 99.
134 Ibid.: 109.
135 Ibid.: 130-132.
136 Ibid.: 132.
137 Ibid.: 192.
138 Langer: 3.
139 Ibid.: 2.
140 Ibid.: 21.
142 Ibid.: 61.
143 Ibid.: 69.
144 Ibid.: 36.
145 Ibid.: 161.
146 Ibid.: 197.
148 Ibid.: 201.
149 W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, reprinted in Three Negro Classics (New York: Avon) 1965: 214-215.
150 Barbara Johnson, “Metaphor, Metonymy and Voice, in Their Eyes Were Watching God,”; Black Literature and Literary Theory, H.L. Gates, ed. (New York: Methuen) 1984: 218.
151 Young: 158.
152 Ibid.: 171.
153 Ibid.: 166.
154 Felman and Laub: xiv.
156 Ibid.: 1.
158 Ibid.: 5.
159 Ibid.: 15.
160 Ibid.: 41.
161 Monique Wittig, “The Straight Mind,”; in Russell Ferguson, et al., eds., Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) 1990: 52.
162 Felman and Laub: 48.
163 Ibid.: 50.
164 Ibid.: 52.
165 Ibid.: 53.
166 Ibid.: 54-55.
167 Ibid.: 58.
169 Ibid.: 72.
170 Ibid.: 76.
171 Witting: 52.
172 Felman and Laub: 79.
173 Ibid.: 78.
174 Ibid.: 82.
176 Ibid.: 121.
177 Ibid.: 123.
178 Ibid.: 135.
179 Ibid.: 139.
180 Ibid.: 238.